The game started with a Marcus Paige three. A warning shot.

The No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team overcame a five-point first half deficit to defeat the No. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals, 70-60, Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.

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In the second half, Carolina got the ball inside early and often and rode the bootstraps of Brice Johnson’s 22 points to a spot in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

UNC came on strong down the stretch (Todd Melet)

UNC came on strong down the stretch (Todd Melet)

Johnson says his manhood was challenged by the Cardinals. He defended it admirably after a halftime pep talk.

“Just be a man. That is the biggest emphasis throughout the entire halftime. Coach Davis pointed it out and Coach Williams pointed it out too. He said he doesn’t care when it comes to anybody’s manhood, so I had to step up and be a big-time player,” Johnson says.

Tokoto played well with four fouls late in the game (Todd Melet)

Tokoto played well with four fouls late in the game (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams, who passed Phog Allen with 747 career wins, says Kennedy Meeks delivered more quality minutes than he had anticipated going in. After all, it was doubtful whether Meeks, who’s been battling a fever all week, would even suit up.

“Got more out of him than I thought I was going to get. But I think he did some good things. His passing is important to us,” Coach Williams says.

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 23-10 on the season while the Cardinals dropped to a 24-8 ledger overall.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says the zone defense employed by UNC in the second half gave his team fits. The Hall of Famer was none too pleased in his postgame presser that lasted all of two questions.

“We had a lot of good looks; we just couldn’t put the shots down, and sometimes it’s very simple when it comes down to that,” Coach Pitino says.

Rick Pitino couldn't come up with the answers (Todd Melet)

Rick Pitino couldn’t come up with the answers (Todd Melet)

With the game hanging in the balance, the Tar Heels were able to hit big-time shots and come up with defensive stands in the clutch. After so many close calls going the other way, Paige says this win meant a lot to UNC.

“We’ve been in so many of those games that it’s good we’re starting to figure out how to be more poised in those games. So we’re not rushing quick shots any more as much, and we’re taking care of the ball for the most part. So those are the two biggest things we’re doing differently down the stretch,” Paige says.

Brice Johnson was fired up Thursday afternoon (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson was fired up Thursday afternoon (Todd Melet)

The rebounding department was deadlocked at 38 apiece, but it was Carolina who was able to convert more points in the paint in the topsy-turvy affair.

Louisville’s Terry Rozier finished with a team-leading 20 points and Wayne Blackshear followed suit with 18 points of his own, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 35-percent shooting as a team. That didn’t match up well with UNC’s 42-percent afternoon.

Next up for the Tar Heels on semifinal Friday will be a meeting with the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, who dispatched Florida State Thursday, 58-44.